Heinz USA (Pittsburgh) encountered a bit of a sticky situation as the company began to develop Weight Watchers Smart Ones frozen entrees. Specifically, its developers found that when oil was used to formulate pasta (a water-based, or hydrophilic, food), the oil would not uniformly cover the pasta. This meant the pasta would then stick together upon being frozen. In addition, the oil tended to fry the pasta when heated in the microwave. And, of course, oil contributes significant calories--a no-no for a nutritional entree. Therefore, Heinz needed a lower-calorie alternative
“We knew we needed a solution to deliver consistent product quality, but providing the optimal solution would require doing a lot of research,” says Jim Matthews, vice president of innovation and quality, Heinz US Consumer Products. So, they turned to a supplier to speed development time.
A Supplier as a Partner
As a result, Advanced Food Systems Inc. (AFS, Somerset, N.J.) developed MicroSeal System 999A, a special emulsion system that coats rice or pasta noodles to prevent sticking, and also contains only 10%-12% oil. Heinz was able to satisfy its high-quality standards by utilizing AFS' emulsion technology expertise.
AFS has worked on four to five of Heinz's key product lines, and has developed about 50 different products based on its own technology for a variety of customers.
AFS has a number of neutral-flavored items that can be used as a starting point for customized products. For example, different favors like butter, olive oil and sesame can be added the MicroSeal System.
“When we custom-design ingredient systems for our customers' new products or when we do problem solving, we don't just look at formulations. We look at the whole picture, processing efficiency, how the product is going to be frozen before distribution and how the product is consumed,” says Yongkeun Joh, president of AFS.
Controlling moisture can produce higher cooked yields, which increases the bottom line. “I believe that AFS has been very successful because we've developed various types of products to control moisture,” says Joh. Other physical and chemical reactions, such as ice crystal growth during freeze/thaw cycles, oxidative discoloration and flavor degradation all are reduced if and when moisture is controlled.
In addition to regulating moisture, AFS has been incorporating flavors and culinary expertise to the texture systems they produce, not only to improve texture and cooked yields, but also to improve flavor and appearance, flavor release and flavor stability. Controlling texture is the key to controlling flavor and overall quality of processed food products.
Ranking Above the RestHeinz is ranked second in the frozen meals category, first in frozen potatoes (due to its Ore-Ida brand) and first in ketchup products. AFS helped improve the texture of Heinz mashed potatoes by providing a stabilizer that improves microwaveability and consistency from batch to batch. “These are core brands that we've worked hard to enhance and optimize. AFS has been integral in making that a reality,” states Matthews.
All AFS salespeople are an extension of the company's laboratory because they have extensive research experience. “I think AFS' ability to apply hands-on expertise in our labs is something that we rarely see in other [suppliers],” says Matthews. AFS' (a 25-year-old company) facilities have a R&D and technical service center, and state-of-the-art production lines.
“With AFS, we can rely on one supplier to do many things; in the past, we had to rely on two or three and integrate the technologies together,” says Matthews.